No, America Does NOT Need More Scientists and Engineers

By Guest Blogger | June 13, 2012 12:44 pm


Derek Lowe is a medicinal chemist who has worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other diseases. He has been writing about drug discovery at In the Pipeline, where this post originally appeared, for more than ten years.

Slate recently published one of those assume-the-conclusions articles up on science and technology education in the U.S. It’s right there in the title: “America Needs More Scientists and Engineers.”

Now, I can generally agree that America (and the world) needs more science and engineering. I’d personally like to have researchers who could realize room-temperature superconductors, a commercially feasible way to turn carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into industrial products, and both economically viable fusion power and high-efficiency solar power beamed down from orbit—for starters. We most definitely need better technology and more scientific understanding to develop these things, since none of them (as far as we know) are at all impossible, and we sure don’t have any of them yet.

But to automatically assume that we need lots more scientists and engineers to do that is a tempting, but illogical, conclusion. And it’s one that my currently unemployed readers who are scientists and engineers probably don’t enjoy hearing about very much. I think that the initial fallacies are (1) lumping together all science education into a common substance, and (2) assuming that if you just put more of that into the hopper, more good stuff will come out the other end.

If I had to pick one line from the article that I disagree with the most, it would be this one:

America needs Thomas Edisons and Craig Venters, but it really needs a lot more good scientists, more competent scientists, even more mediocre scientists.

No. I hate to be the one to say it, but mediocre scientists are, in fact, in long supply. Access to them is not a rate-limiting step. (That’s the chemist’s way of saying it’s not the main bottleneck.) Not all the unemployed science and technology folks out there are mediocre—not by a long shot (I’ve seen the CVs that come in)—but a lot of the mediocre ones are finding themselves unemployed, and they’re searching an awful long time for new positions when that happens. Who, exactly, would be clamoring to hire a fresh horde of I-guess-they’ll-do science graduates? Is that what we really need to put things over the top, technologically—more foot soldiers?

But I agree with the first part of the quoted statement, although different names might have come to my mind. My emphasis would be on “How do we get the smartest and most motivated people to go into science again?” Or perhaps “How do we educate future discoverers to live up to their potential?” I want to make sure that we don’t miss the next John von Neumann or Claude Shannon, or that they don’t decide to go off to the hedge fund business instead. I want to be able to find the great people who come out of obscurity, the Barbara McClintocks and Francis Cricks, and give them the chance to do what they’re capable of. When someone seems to be born for a particular field, like the Nobel-winning R. B. Woodward seemed to be for synthetic organic chemistry, I want them to have every chance to find their calling.

But even below that household-name level, there’s a larger group of very intelligent, very inventive people who are mostly only known to those in their field. I have a list in my head right now for chemistry; so do you for the fields that you know best. These people we cannot have enough of, either—these are the ones who might be only a chance encounter or sudden thought away from a line of research that would lead to an uncontested Nobel Prize or billion-dollar industrial breakthrough.

To be fair, Slate may well get around to some of these thoughts; they’re going to be writing about science education all month. But I wish that they hadn’t gotten off on this particular foot. You’ve got to guard yourself against myths in this area. Here come a few of these myths, which feed the erroneous idea that we need more scientists and engineers:

1. Companies, in most cases, are not moving R&D operations overseas because they just can’t find anyone here to do the jobs. They’re doing that for the same reason so many other employers have sent jobs abroad: because it’s cheaper that way (or appears to be; the jury’s probably still out in many instances)—people in many other countries simply do their jobs for less money. And it’s often the ordinary grunt work that’s being outsourced, which makes the “we even need mediocre scientists” line especially wrong-headed.

2. We are not, as far as I can see, facing the constant and well-known “critical shortage of scientists and engineers.” There have been headlines with that phrase in them for decades, and I wish people would think about that before writing another one. Some fields may have shortages (and these vary over time), but that’s a different story entirely.

3. And that brings up another point, as mentioned above: while the earlier stages of science and math education are a common pathway, things then branch out, and how. Saying that there are so-many-thousand “science PhDs” is a pretty useless statistic, because by that point, they’re scattered into all sorts of fields. A semiconductor firm will not be hiring me, for example.

To sum up: our problems are not caused by a shortage of scientists and engineers, and they will not be fixed by cranking out a lot more mediocre ones. It’s harder than that—isn’t it always?

Heads image via Shutterstock 

  • Travis

    I completely agree. Can I look forward to a post about HOW to make better scientists and recruit the right talent?

  • Frank

    Amen! As an engineer, I concur completely with your sentiment. Someone that can be a GREAT engineer or scientist has the skill set to be a GREAT investment banker, but can make a lot more money.

    To me – the solution is simple (though how you implement it is hard). What drives people to accept low paying jobs like policemen, firemen, or high paying jobs like lawyers and bankers? It is about status. Status can be conferred in so many ways – through public admiration (policemen, firemen) or by money (lawyers and bankers). You have to raise the status of science in our society.

    Politicians have done a great job lowering the status of scientists and engineers (see the anti-vaccination movement, for example), while wage pressure from multiple sources have kept salaries more depressed versus almost all other professions. For example, if a new college grad in engineering made $100K, you would have no trouble finding tons of bright people flocking to the profession.

    Because of the problem of status and pay – when I hear the government and companies talking about “inspiring” people into science and engineering – the skeptical part of me hears society wanting more talent in science and engineering, but without having to pay for it.

  • Greg Fish

    Funny enough, we also don’t have jobs for all the scientists we have now, so wouldn’t encouraging new ones to spend eight years in school and a small mortgage on tuition payments end up very badly?

  • Brian Smith

    I agree and disagree. While we may not need more “scientists and engineers”, we need ALOT more technically trained people. You can’t outsource your plumbing or wiring emergency, or your A/C breaking down in the middle of the night.

    What we really don’t need any more of are French Art Historians, PhD programs in Urban Renewal, or Parks and Rec Majors. We especially don’t need any more of that favorite of college athletes, athletic management majors.

  • Hayo

    The problem of the US according to the OECD PISA study is that more than 48% of highschool students do basically not understand science. In Finland (the best Western country in the comparison), this is just 17%. Funnily, Finnland also achieves 4 times more students in the top grade, so working on reducing the laggards does not reduce, but dramatically increases the “elite” and the potential number of students for studying science. The Finns say that many really bad students became suddenly very good with their new method.

    I have just published two articles in Science & Education on this US-Finland comparison for those who are interested (21/4 and online 25/04/12). This defines the problem very clearly and also shows an empirical solution. Science is not a goal in itself, but a method to understand the world we live in. This is a need of everybody. If we fail in this, it has a lot of dangerous consequences, also and especially on our understanding of democracy and how to live in a technologically sophisticated society.

  • Ian Durham

    What the world needs is not necessarily what the market demands. I think we DO need more scientists and engineers, but NOT mediocre ones. Present employment trends are NOT indicative of what we need, but simply an indication of what the market is presently demanding. But the market is not always the best judge of what the world actually needs.

    For example (and I hate to cite this as an example since I have personal ties to them), Fisher-Price toys is a major employer of engineers and (believe it or not) physicists. I’m not really sure the world absolutely *needs* more Little People or Dora The Explorer plastic toys. But imagine if we put those people to work solving serious world problems?

    Here’s another example. Lyme disease is a very serious problem in the Northeastern US (among other areas) and is growing worse with increasing tick populations due to warming temperatures. Several drug companies have said that a vaccine could be developed fairly easily (in fact, one was developed but wasn’t effective and the project was dropped), but it’s not lucrative enough, i.e. the market isn’t demanding it. Just imagine what humanity could accomplish if we shifted our priorities a bit.

    So, I DO think we need more scientists and engineers, but I think we ALSO need a change in priorities. As Chris Hedges says, “[w]e’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and “success”, defined monetarily, rather than learning to think critically and to challenge.” The world needs the latter, not the former. Do not conflate the two.

  • becca

    Seriously? You want to hold up Woodward as someone born to do science? That’s a GREAT way to ensure no one with any intelligence would WANT to go into science.

  • A.

    Certainly agree. However, it’s a deeper hole. First, one should take a look at the statistics of how many of the graduate students in the US are actually American. American education does not favor the development of critical thinking and will to become a scientist, period. Second, even universities do not value research any more. Look at Rick Perry’s disgrace for Texas science (yes it exists!), for example – “universities are for teaching” and boom, no more research assistantships, and years-old labs thrown into oblivion with more administrators than scientists+students. Finally, look at the example of countries like Brazil and what happens when a funding agency bases all it’s decisions on things like impact factors and treats PhD graduations as market points. Science becomes bloated with absurd papers published just to get points. PhD’s get unemployed because private universities won’t pay a PhD salary when all you need is a M.Sc. to teach. It’s not how many scientists and engineers a country forms but what it does with them – STEM graduates cannot be evaluated the same way as groceries, the private sector MUST hire too, and administrators have a really hard time understanding that. Hell, even impact factor people have a hard time understanding that.

  • Kaviani

    Nonpolitical funding is a major issue, too. Too often, corporate R&D amounts to disproving rival claims and cherry picking data to satisfy corporate policy. This leads to brilliance and innovation being stifled and vaulted in the name of proprietary rights.

    There’s also the issue of parasitic science, but I’m still buzzing from Prometheus, so I’ll let it be.

  • RogerTheGeek

    We don’t need any more mediocre college graduates in any field.

  • bill carlson

    To give you an idea of the fantastic shortage of scientists and theoretical physicists we have – I scored an 800 on the math SAT and got two Masters Degrees – one of them a Master of Engineering degree from an Ivy League school. I have no arrest record – never been in trouble with the law – never got into any addictions other than coffee and chocolate. I am now living at the homeless shelter in America’s poorest city. So you see, if you pursue science, there is a great future out there awaiting you. GO FOR IT, MAN !!!

  • Cpt. Capitalism

    Agreed to a certain point, but the labor market shows the true reality – that engineers and STEM degrees are in more demand than sociology or any other “study” that avoids math and rigor at all costs. It may not be the Dotcom boom where a recent graduate can make $60,000 out of college, but starting salaries still show there is more demand for science-based graduates than…well…anything else.

  • Ulmer

    1. We do not need more mediocre scientists. Amazingly, I have seen biochemical research become robotic. 100 mid-level scientists could not compete with one robot which fills 1200 nano liter samples in a minute. In fact, it would be physically impossible at that scale.

    2. Why does every high school student in America need to know about quarternary proteins, protein synthesis, peptide bonds, or amino groups? This is what was asked on he international science tests. I know medical doctors and scientists who couldn’t explain these things. They vaguely remember learning it, but don’t use this information .

    3. We need to re-evaluate what every student should know. It is not as obvious as it once was. National HS level biology emphasizes cells, macromolecules, genetics, evolution and ecology… But students are no longer taught about the diversity of life; bacteria, fungi, animals, plants.., anatomy

  • Jared Beekman

    Fix our primary education system.

    Let those who want to destroy their lives do so, and let those who wish to excel have the chance. Prison guards, law enforcement, and emergency medicine specialists need the job security anyway.

    Force every student through 4 years of Math and Science. Teach them technology and what can be done with this, more or less, abstract education into the basics of Science. Make the teachers demonstrate knowledge of the area they are teaching!

  • RJD

    Nothing like getting a social theory from a Chemist. Obviously the author subscribes exclusively to the “great man” theory of science. A common but highly dubious mythos holds that science proceeds only by the work of outstanding individuals. It is sort of like saying that Bill Gates stranded on Mars would recreate Microsoft and become fabulously wealthy all over again. Hardly, by himself Bill Gates would simply lead a lonely life fading into oblivion.

    Does anyone think von Neumann never stole an idea from a grad student or relied on others to complete something he began? That he did not need feed back or validation? That human knowledge is not ultimately shared social knowledge? If von Neumann sat cloistered in a literal ivory tower, would a word of what he said have mattered? Human effort is social effort and it takes many non-elite to pull off any activity of note. Even outstanding artistic performances require enormous infrastructure. It is easy to mistake the influence of paradigm shifters for the power of the paradigms themselves, but they are not even close in importance. It is ideas shared by many, not a few creators noteworthy though they may be, which matter.

    The production of “great men” is highly unpredictable and by definition most people cannot be exceptional. It is absurd to ask for the majority to be “above average”, actually it is a arithmetic and logical contradiction so beginning with that premise it is easy to prove anything. The better question to ask is how to get the most out of what is available. And then what we see is a massive failure of the management class which has surrounded itself with unearned privileges while denigrating those who must actually produce as “mediocre”. Ratcheting down pay, status and influence of the technical elite to server the financial elite is the game pulling down this country.

  • SomeAnonymousGeek

    I also graduated with a MS in engineering from an Ivy League school. It amazed me, almost all my job offers were with hedge funds. I took the one job I found in R&D. Now, one year after graduation, we are facing the distinct possibility of our department being eliminated. I’m not homeless yet, but it’s an incredible amount of effort to NOT become a mediocre engineer trapped in a mediocre job.

    I take solace in the fact that it isn’t just me. Neil Renninger is watching his company move in to cosmetics research, HP is a shell of its former self, Bell labs are no more. There is little creativity left in science and engineering outside of the Maker/Hackerspace movements.

    In today’s world, you’re much better off making money off the brownian motion of the Black–Scholes model than trying to pursue anything real.

  • Paul S.

    The USA doesn’t need more scientists and engineers doing simple work for companies where highly skilled and very smart doesn’t matter. Or doing these studies or work on some totally useless and obvious project.

    What it does need is more working on “important” projects. The problem is getting many of the very smart people to go into a field where pay is so much less, along with education costs being so high.

    I feel like getting people together early on to work on interesting and important projects might help keep more in the field due to what they will be doing rather than just for the pay. The internet could play a key role in this in the future for both funding through small or large donations. Finding projects people want to fund, and getting the people together so the problems would be able to be solved.

  • Julius Mazzarella

    I completely disagree with the authors statement that we do not need more scientists and engineers. Certainly, the Von Neumann’s, Einstein’s, Tesla’s, Maxwell, Faraday, the list is endless …they were first scientists and then the great discoveries came. You may need to create a million average scientists before getting the right one that hits the jackpot for humanity but if you don’t produce that big number first you will end up empty handed. Sort of like saying you need to probably create a billion or so people before you get one Einstein. If you don’t creat the billion you may not end up with an Einstein or two. It’s just that is you get that right person into the science field then humanity may have a small chance of survival and improving quality of life for the rest of us.

  • Tom

    I’ll agree heartily with this article.

    From an early age, I had a passion for electronics. As I started my college education, this passion only increased. Twenty years later, I’ve met some of my former classmates, those that were not nearly as passionate, but certainly made good grades. Of the five with which I’ve recently been in contact, only one has stayed in the field of Electrical Engineering. One moved quickly to accounting, two others had short careers in engineering before moving to marketing. The last one now owns a restaurant franchise, having become discouraged with the technical field all together.

    I would encourage identification of students who are more likely to leave a technical field before they leave school. I would encourage educators, schools and their faculty to find the students who have that passion for the subject and to feed that passion.

    I feel that it was a tremendous waste of educational resources to spend the time educating those four people in engineering when they have not used this expertise in their careers. I feel that there were students lost in the system, overshadowed by the huge numbers of students in the system, that never finished the degree. That even years later still have a passion for science, but won’t every use it productively because it was stifled early on.

  • Student

    Finally! I’m a Cancer Biologist working on my PhD and none of my peers are able to find jobs. People that have great publication records, communicate clearly, network, etc. There is just nothing out there for us…short of a Xenopus postdoc or working at Starbucks. Thank you for bringing this to people’s attention! It we stopped PhD production in biology for the next two years, there would still be an oversupply due to all of those getting stuck as a postdoc or being imported from other countries. Though the problem isn’t yet being solved, I am glad to see someone actually realizing a problem does exist.

  • Vince

    Julius Mazzarella, your comment is unfortunately flawed.

    ‘Producing genius’, such as a von Neumann, isn’t coupled to the production of PhDs. Individuals who possess such extraordinary talents exist independent of specific pathways in higher-education, see Freeman Dyson, Ramanujan or countless individuals who have ended up in quantitative finance. Having more mediocre PhD’s just means the same or greater unemployment with more sunken cost.

    [genius] As a function of the total population would be correct though as in this case you’d also grow the extreme tail of the distribution. It’s the ‘Boltzmann solution’ – inefficiently pump up the whole canonical ensemble so you can pick-up a few extra on the wing.

    Derek’s argument is an elegant, and in my opinion, correct one. Which is that the more optimal strategy is to use the information we have to improve the filter or heuristic by which we can identify, select and foster those who are already on that extreme tail and guide them to high-impact positions. That’s where the bang-for-your-buck lies.

  • BWA

    The difference between a great scientist and a mediocre one is often the environment they grew up in, i.e.: the education system.

    Why are we totally wasting questionable teaching talent on creationism and debating this topic instead of funding/teaching great science programs? Why do we have teachers teaching subjects they should be sitting in a classroom learning (and not teaching)? Where has technology expertise gone in the USA and Canada!?

    I see a huge gap between even an average science education and mediocre, let alone mediocre and inspired! If we can’t even provide a basic science understanding by the time someone graduates the public school system, we sure as heck are not going to get a chance to create great scientists and Engineers!!

  • Laurel

    Scientists and engineers need a place to work and there are fewer and fewer worthy employment opportunities for them. As American companies have shifted factory work overseas, they are now exporting their research work. Where will the new scientists and engineers work?

  • Laurel Simon

    We do not need more engineers, or better engineers. We need R & D Money. All the really great engineering brains are sitting at desks, begging for money to enable them make great discoveries. The Corporate world has shutdown the funds and has decided to aquire their new discoveries through aquisition instead of creating it internally. Large numbers of extremely brillant scientists can not invent or create without R&D money, but the price of the CEO and Board of Directors’ stock options are more important.

  • farmerbrown

    There are plenty of good, trained engineers out there. The main issue is more of a problem with HR departments.

    When you require someone with 5-10 or more years of experience doing a very specific job you won’t find many. You’re essentially only able to hire someone doing the same job from a small pool of your competitors. How many people really want to do the same thing elsewhere for similar pay?

    Also, many companies use online forms then ask a ton of essentially yes/no or option 1/2/3 questions. If you get one wrong, sorry you’re not qualified. If you put 10 of those in your application, such a small fraction of the applicants will meet them you won’t be able to find anyone.

    They do not want to do any amount of training, so you’ve severely limited your pool of potentials, despite huge numbers being able to do the job very well with a week or two of training.

    Take a look at any career page. How many require 5+ years experience with a very long list of very specific skills? How many don’t? How many of those specific skills are truly required?

  • Vivek

    Agree fully! There is no need for producing more engineers and definitely NOT more mediocre engineers. Also, if there were truly a shortage of engineers, then we’d see engineer salaries rise to the point where they’d earn as much as doctors or lawyers. Obviously, this is just baloney. Sadly, many engineering institutions like the IEEE keep harping on how we need more engineers blah blah blah..

    I will also agree with what has been stated by some here. The U.S. needs to invest more, much more in primary and secondary school education and not cut the number of school days with each passing year. Motivated and well-educated school graduates will make for motivated and skilled college graduates, no matter what discipline they then choose.

    As a foreigner who had the privilege of doing graduate work and study at a U.S. university among several very talented people, almost all of whom came from Asia, I find it sad that education, especially for its own people is such a low priority for the U.S. The Chinese, the Indians and even the Iranians are going to stop coming one day, and you really are going to have a shortage then.

  • Vladimir Voytenko

    I live in Ukraine. I and my wife was a lecturer at major universities. But our sumarny income per month is $ 450. Prices of food and clothing in this country is higher than in the U.S.. We work at the Department of Microelectronics and Nanotechnology at the Department of micro and nano electronics. Before that we worked in the departments of physics and applied physics for 10 years. This year, our department, applicants have applied only half free (paid by the state seats) seats. What should I tell my students, if I do not want in their country. We are looking for work in other countries, but to no avail. In our country, a car salesman (my former student and a graduate student) receives a salary of $ 1,000 a month. This is more than twice as much of our income. Although for the seller does not need higher education. My search for work abroad have shown that most academics unclaimed people in the world, they live off the edge or on the edge of poverty.

  • Ramond Gonzalaz

    This is non sense more empirical data will improve all area’s of science .More inventions more high tech tech cheaper cost to manufacture new unique products to sell.

  • HawkFest

    More over, ironically Slate mentions Thomas Edison as an example for a scientist, for a field where Nikola Tesla should’ve been mentioned instead. They just don’t know what they’re talking about, like repeating falsities via the sole regards of business interests (over-rating Edison’s real impact over science in general, just because he did great business with other’s scientific works)… Actually, I think that nothing will change as long as USA regards money as some cultural drive, being for all aspects of its citizens lives the main leït motiv (everything being judged by its potential and immediate business success or by its wallet, like in a real plutocracy instead of democracy). Which is why Edison is falsely considered as a “Great scientist” while it’s Tesla who was the real “Great one” at that era. Do not ever forget that engineers work for businesses, unlike pure scientists : no business will ever invest into research and development for those examples you gave about technologies that would be needed…

  • HawkFest

    I agree : nothing in science is the “product” of a sole individual. It’s always a combination of past (or other’s current) experiences and observations, that in the end can lead one to this theorem, that theory, or this technology. As an example, Darwin was not the only one to work on the theory of Evolution. Even though he was “chosen” by his era (and politicians) to be THE sole one to be “right” in regards to the Theory of Evolution (we always silence all those who brought their own experimentations into the balance), actually nowadays we can see that Lamarck’s views were much closer to the current trend implying discoveries with genomes than was Darwin!…

    • HawkFest

      (no genes nor DNA are “transmitted” as some copy from parents to children : there are NO duplicates, all have an amount of some “creativity” – the still unknown Delta between parents and children that we can however measure -, mostly determined by such factors as the environment, the food, etc.)

  • HawkFest

    I don’t agree with your 1st paragraph : scientists and engineers are not “manufactured” in such a way that you can even dare to evoke some will to cut on the numbers, and assert about “tossable” mediocrity while doing this! This is like WISHING via some magic staff from Skyrim (more bugs and degradation than some promise of quality in the end). Your “method” is crippled with a ridiculously flawed reversed logic : having less scientists and better ones would be the phantasmagoria entertained by uneducated and thus close-minded accounting officer, believing that humans don’t interact nor exchange experiences so as to individually evolve, but act like Gods having deterministic levels of “Godliness”… Ridiculous.

    Let’s be realistic… Without so-called “mediocre” scientists/engineers, there wouldn’t exist any “genious”. Einstein wouldn’t have existed without his “mediocre” pars who helped him out in those fields where he wasn’t very good like mathematics, or those who exchanged philosophical views with him at this little café where he used to go in his youth… Actually he was considered as a mediocre school-boy, up to university! Which in itself is in total contradiction with this article : Einstein would have never existed under such a narrow view and “measurement” of the World…In the end, the more you’ll have scientists, the more potential you’ll get at seeing one or two “absorbing entities” who will be able to synthesize all this into this new theory, or that new resulting technological method. It’s quite simple tu understand and observe, maybe too simple for some…

    That scenario of day-dreaming about childishly “wishing” for less mediocre and better scientists/engineers, would actually solely suit the fact of saving money with a magic wand, period. Surely not for raising our scientific standards or levels of technological “efficiency”, it would actually result in the opposite!

    However I agree with you last paragraphs.

    • Mark

      Very well put. There’s mediocre doctors and lawyers as well. Mediocre accountants, and plenty of mediocre CEOs. Sometimes they’re even paid more than they’re worth. But that’s no excuse for paying engineers so little these days, and engaging at efforts to suppress their compensation. Even relatively mediocre engineers easily produce more than their pay in value for their firm and the economy. Good engineers may very well produce hundreds of times their compensation for their economy.

  • Seal Silver

    Thank you for addressing this.

  • Seal Silver

    I agree with this statement.

  • Aaron Woodburn

    This article is insulting. Corporate America has sweeping ownership rights on everything it pays for. There is no drive to invent anymore, no drive to be exceptional. If you don’t understand that then you are one of the lucky ones that hasn’t had the experience of an every-day boss sucking all of your credit away to glorify themselves. You want to know why you think that we have too many engineers? because we have too many business majors.

    • calidad01

      I’m not sure that the author would disagree with you, based on what he has said. I’m not sure that minting a greater number of STEM graduates would by itself cause businesspeople to respect their STEM employees any more than they do. Hence you and the author can readily be on the same team. No insult, no foul.

  • milkyway way

    We are on the same track here with different fields though. As long as engineering is concern, we are all on the same path.


    Bright Heritage

  • calidad01

    Considering how few scientists there were in Darwin’s time, relative to
    now, this makes his discoveries (or those of his–by today’s
    standards–small pool of co-discoverers) hard to account for. The actual number of scientists, in the modern sense, who had ever lived in human history when Einstein was born was probably not close to a billion.

    Here is what I take to be the real issue: Darwin was given a
    degree of leisure and intellectual freedom that the (by his standards)
    massive pool of scientists and engineers today do not, and never will,
    enjoy. If your job requires you to focus on a single part, or work only
    to the specific expectations of your company’s immediate needs, there
    is very little chance for a very radical innovation of the sort you want. Unfortunately, that is also true even in academia today, where “pure” research is supposed to be done. So it’s hard to say where, within the space in the current economy where scientists and engineers currently work, we’ve left room for the kinds of radical discoveries you are talking about, Julius. A trillion engineers constrained by very short-term corporate needs and goals WILL NOT, I would think, produce more innovation than a million engineers who are unconstrained. QED: I wouldn’t be too quick to disagree with the author, because the problem may not be one of numbers.

  • Tyler Jonco

    If you were a real scientists you would cite your sources. Yes, america needs more real scientists and engineers.

  • Taylor Penna

    You’re the biggest liar :P!

    • Paul Robinson

      You are only saying that because you have yet to be rejected enough yet to understand what it is like to have degrees and none that want to hire you.

  • Irina Slesareva

    AJ agree with you.

  • Sparks

    I have a feeling this is pure bs

  • Jane

    First of all if there are MEdiocre scientists out there it’s because of the mediocre professors in the education industry. If we then have mediocre professors then we have a long train of scientists that have fallen off. Bottom line if we got through college and some mediocre professor passed us through or curved the class that is not our fault but there’s. We need to look at the educational industry and start getting refunds.

    • Bobby

      Mediocrity has nothing to do with it. You don’t need to be exceptional for these jobs. You don’t even need a PhD. That’s why they are moving them overseas…it’s cheaper!!!

  • Jane


  • snoglydox

    I cannot agree more; Microsoft was built on buying (or stealing in some cases) other peoples work, and Bill was not the programming genius of the group. I do however believe people can be “above average” if the conditions are right; if Bill Gates was from a family in the dump of Detroit, Microsoft would not be, and Bill would be in prison for shanking someone.

  • Kathy Amores

    Well, our country definitely needs more engineers and researchers. Sadly, people here do not usually pursue graduate studies. They usually favor working outright in industries after completion of their bachelor’s degree. Starting salaries in private industries for materials engineers here in our country is not that high but there is a possibility of growth unlike those who pursue graduate studies.

    I plan to pursue a master’s degree after I graduate. I might even plan to pursue a PhD after graduating my master’s. Yes, I admit, i will be living off government stipends. Maybe, I will be living like a bum or be eating canned goods every day. Maybe I will not be that rich and be a slight disappointment to my parents because I want to work in the academe.In our country, working in the academe equals low wages.

    Despite the cons listed above, in the end the decision is still up to me. The only thing important is that I am doing what I love. I have time to dedicate to research and touch lives.

    I think what me need most are passionate scientists and engineers. Passionate people who have the drive to learn more and research more despite the drawbacks. We can never have enough passionate scientists and engineers.

  • Bobby

    I have PhD in Engineering from an Ivy League University. It’s been 8 years since I graduated and my career is already shot. I’ve had four jobs already. The first was in marketing (they didn’t tell me it was a marketing job). The second was as a process engineer that didn’t require a PhD. The third was with a company that was set up to make it look like they did R&D so that they could reinvest their profits and not have to pay it out to an asbestos trust fund. The fourth company did expert witness testimony that involved blaming others for accidents. All through out this time I looked at the foreigners in research positions that I wanted and thought to myself “Why can’t I get one of those jobs?”.

    • Chris Gorman

      Unfortunate, but true.

  • other

    Not all of those with a scientific training will be able to find a job in the industry, the number of jobs being few, but the training that they receive is valued in other industries.

    I would also argue that the training is of benefit to the individual for its own sake. We should be able to learn these things for our own satisfaction. I hope that we are not motivated to produce better or more scientists entirely for the purpose of raising GDP.

    • Mark

      That’s a good argument in theory, but in reality, other industries are not clamouring to hire scientists and engineers. Most of them consider scientists and engineers to be overqualified, or in gluts of their own. The real problem here is that the economy simply isn’t large enough relative to the amount of supply available.

  • Luke Burgess

    Sorry to read about this, two Masters Degrees must have done a number to your credit, or maybe you are a slow finisher like me. Both, can impact your job options. To those who think Bill is lying, why don’t you tell us about the wonderful jobs you got as a result of learning science and math, rather than being negative to Bill. The truth is jobs in science, math and computers are hard, and don’t pay much. That is why you have to find them and finish them quickly, so you can make enough to eat the next day. You really should only pursue such a carrier if you like it a lot, like me. Remember, no one gets a job for having a single set of abilities, they get a job because others know they have abilities. Making people know you have the abilities you have is the most important thing you can do no matter the field you are in.

  • AKO

    The financialization of the American economy:
    America’s ‘Brain Drain’: Best And Brightest College Grads Head For Wall Street

  • AKO

    The financialization of the American economy

    America’s ‘Brain Drain’: Best And Brightest College Grads Head For Wall Street

    • Mark

      Actually not very many best and brightest head for Wall Street. Far more common is that the best and brightest are unemployed or underemployed.

  • Mike

    Without Nikola Tesla and Alan Turing, do you think that you could have written this essay on anything other than a typewriter?

  • Deirdre –

    With a science major, you can not make a decision yourself. It is a group work. Math, science major options are with a corporate. It is quite different with an engineer though. They can work as a consultant. A senior engineer I mean. A fresh graduate will have the same problem though :(. By the way, I am agree with you. We need a scientist who can make some breakthrough. An idea that leads to a project to give other average scientists something to do.

  • Chris Gorman

    As an Engineer and Business Professional, I agree the biggest limiting factor is being pidgeon-holed by an HR description or Recruiter in an interview selection process. I know when I get through the door, I can execute any task and come up with solutions to challenges. It’s what I’m wired to do.
    So we play games to jazz up resumes with certifications and buzz words. At the end of the day our society needs to move away from the superficial flavor of the minute in the 24 hr news cycle and focus on the main issues.
    We are killing our planet. If we do not have more scientists and engineers focused on ideas , implementation and managing of those tasks to right the course, its all for naught.
    Hundreds of engineers and scientists with no direction and budget have no more value than a jail full of innocent men.

    • Holly B Martin

      Being interviewed by an HR gatekeeper who has NO CLUE to what the job really requires or what you could offer based on your skills and experience – a real downer, and really bad for a business.

      • Mark

        Its professionally insulting, to have someone who isn’t even a professional in the field, evaluating one’s skill level. HR people have absolutely no business being anywhere near the talent. Too many HR people think they’re managers and the real management has allowed them to get away with that nonsense.

  • Chris Gorman

    We do need some Art history majors, other wise all that knowledge and creativity will be lost.
    As an Engineer while I am practical, I also see the beauty in the human expression of art. It does make us unique as a species.

  • Steve W PhD

    People, the issue isn’t if there are enough Scientists. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry. I have don’t post-doctorial research in Nanoparticles at UCSB (one of the best physics and materials in the nation), and worked at a National Laboratory on cutting edge Nanotechnology projects. So one could say that I was considered to be the best of the best. That happens a lot with good scientists, and engineers to a lesser extent. The major issue is that industry doesn’t let scientists do what scientists do in the US. Companies in the US have made business majors the kings of the hill…….and lets just say for the most part, the MBAs don’t know anything about being a scientist, especially a PhD level scientist that is trying to progress technology. Progressing technology even minutely take time and smart people. I consider myself smart, but also very stupid, I love being the person that solves issue, but I also hate being a dumbass and not taking the easy way out and getting an MBA….because I am an excellent scientist. I work at a company that is nice to work for, but they too have no idea what it takes and how smart people have to be to create new things, and that people that create new things have talents that are worth a lot. Scientists are not paid for their abilities, Why would anyone go to school for ohh 10 years on average (college and graduate school in a science) and have to do something “totally” original to get the PhD…..and then be paid as if they are an entry level Business major with an BA (usually the kid that drank till 2 each night, went to class at noon and repeated daily). We are stupid, a movie about science geeks one time said “Smart people are always needed”, this is not the case in the US. For the most part…….we need to pay Scientists better, and then we will get more scientists…….and progress technology faster. In reality the US produces excellent scientists…….but why become a scientist, you are not looked up to, you are not paid well, you usually are not understood because people think you are just a geek. Ohh by the way I was an all state hockey player in HS and played college hockey…….so till I started taking Chemistry classes, I was not a geek, now I am totally a geek. My suggestion to everyone DO NOT, and I mean DO NOT become a Scientist till there is a dyer need and We are paid what we should be paid……..Loving something is great, but being paid well…make you able to find hobbies that you can love.

  • Steve W PhD

    RJD… are a tool. Science is about discovery and if that discovery is individual or as a group doesn’t matter. ohh by the way, ideas sprout from groups, and most discovery is by individuals leading others, so individuals carrying the majority of the load and LEADING, not micro-managing. You mention stealing of ideas…….YOU are totally right science has the same issues that society in general has……..their are cheats and thieves in science also……in fact that is the whole process of graduate school in science…….the student does something original from being taught by a mentor….and the mentor gets most of the credit and the student if lucky gets a degree……it is a TRADE-OFF. You are totally right about technology doesn’t not progress without society and the efforts of “non-elite” (your term……and by the way Scientist are actually highly educated blue collar workers today, they are NOT revered or elite). For a society to thrive everyone needs to be valued for doing what they can for society…….

    I think you are close in your closing statement but not quite:

    “Ratcheting down pay, status and influence of the technical elite to server the financial elite is the game pulling down this country.”
    What is pulling down this country is NOT taking care of people that work hard…….and basically downgrading people working hard….even if it is not the most glamorous job……we need to make people proud that they contributed and treat them fairly and take care of them when they work hard……..

  • Paul

    I’m almost to that point myself. The only thing that is difficult for any engineer or scientist, medical doctor etc. These days is being able to find work that will make all that education look worth it after you are finished with school.

    Nearly everyday I wish that I never pursued a BS and MS in electrical engineering, and I know many in other fields including Medicine and Law that feel exactly the same way.

    The only people these days that earn more than they did 10 years ago are fast food workers, and others at the bottom. Reminds me of the horror stories about what people were paid back in the 1970’s in the USSR, Most people earned about the same regardless of education or skills. We are going that way here in the USA.

    • Holly B Martin

      This is just wrong. And meanwhile, these think tanks keep pushing the meme that there’s a huge “skills gap” leaving millions of high-skilled jobs in manufacturing unfilled.

      • Paul

        The only reason that I agree this this article is based on my own experience. I graduated from CSU Fullerton with a MS in electrical engineering. I was about 50k in debt, and it is now at 90+k on my student loans as I have not yet found a job that will pay enough to be able to live with computers more than 8 years old, a TV that requires a converter box bought at Montgomery Wards on a going out of business sale because our old one failed and would cost more in parts than buying the tv that I bought. Currently I have no health coverage, my teeth are failing, I have a chronic infection in my frontal sinuses, and degenerated disks in my back. I am never going to be able to retire as jobs do not pay enough that I have been able to get, such as a mechanic. I can program HMI’s PLC’s, work with robots and motion control, design and build control panels, custom power suppys, and many other kinds of equipment from off the shelf parts. If skills were in so much of a demand why is it that jobs have to pay so low? They are worse than that of fast food workers at keeping up with inflation. I have already decided that if it comes to the point that I have to go to the hospital for something that I probably will not go, as that will be the only way from getting out from under student loans, and from this miserable existence. I used to enjoy life, but even when I had a job with medical coverage they refused to do anything more than pain pills, and when that was cut off I dropped coverage with them and went to Covered California, then was not able to any longer make the payments because I was having my utilities shut off for non payment, and late of my mortgage on a home that is in such bad shape from not being able to do maintenance on it that I could not even rent out even a room.

      • Paul Robinson

        They say there is a skills gap, only because they want cheap labor from India and China, where people are paid less than most here in the USA earn far better working at McDonalds. Check out the Job sites for Intel, Microsoft, Apple, and many others for Engineering job in India and China. Anyone that does not see my point is blind mentally. Also there are some skills that people only get from working on the job, and can easily be picked up in a matter of a couple of weeks once someone is on the job. Quite simply those companies would rather create jobs to leave vacant so that they can say they need more H1B Visas, so they can lower the pay of American workers. Then they complain that none are buying their products, Henry Ford was a businessman that understood that the quickest way to get people to buy his product was to pay people enough to afford it. This is what is going to need to happen otherwise very bad things are going to happen world wide that are already happening, but are only getting worse because none that make policy are willing to do anything other than make problems worse for the masses. This is why suicides are at an all time high here and in other countries as well, and quite often they are deliberately mislabeled to promote their agenda. They call them drug overdose, and I ask would you prefer to die from drug overdose where you go to sleep and die never feeling a thing, or end your life in some far more violent way? This is why I am saying those overdoses are suicides, most people are more afraid of pain than death. At least in the many that I have talked with, and some of them are no longer alive today. One such person was killed by the Fullerton Police a few years ago, and from talking to Kelly Thomas he just wanted to be left alone and it is highly doubtful that he broke into anyone’s car in Fullerton. I remember just talking to him and he was so surprised that anyone would be nice to him that he was crying, and said that he was getting pickle seeds in his eyes. He was a bit off to say the least, and was known to people at the Salvation Army and others where they tried to help him. How such people are treated does reflect on what kind of society that we are. I always say that we put Money before God when someone refers to the 10 commandments. In simple terms putting the differences in the many religions aside, God is Life. It is just the word is often used in place of many other things that are too difficult for the majority of people to understand.
        There is always a skills gap, and it is there because none in the hiring want to give the majority of people even the chance to be able to prove what they are capable of in the real world. If you ask them to explain what they are looking for often they are unable to do so.

  • Paul

    It would be great if everyone understood this at an early age.

  • Paul

    I know by hindsight that I many of us that are engineers should never have pursued the degrees, as all it has done is make us debt slaves for life, and take away all thoughts of a better future for ourselves. I would have been far better off working to be a top auto mechanic, or other field that does not require lots of education and skills for little pay compared to 40 years ago. These days I have been having chronic chest infections, and I’m not sure if it would be in my best interest to go to a hospital if it develops into pneumonia. After all I know that there would be no way that I could pay the medical bills.

    • HawkFest

      Unfortunately I agree with you : since most companies went offshore (especially high tech ones), finding a job in engineering isn’t that straightforward… However we’ll always need scientists and researchers, they are the ones insuring for some national industry to be on the forefront of human advancements.

  • Mark

    Starting salaries in science are very low. Used car salesmen and police officers earn far more in most cases. I’ve interviewed at places where even the secretaries were paid better than the scientists and engineers.

  • Mark

    Why? We already have large numbers of STEM graduates who cannot find jobs. The last thing we should be doing is creating more. Those who want to excel in science have the tools and access to training opportunities. There is no need to cram science down everyone’s throat.

  • Mark

    Plenty of Americans become scientists and engineers. They hit a brick wall when they try to get into the workforce, only to be offered pathetic compensation if they can even get an interview.

  • MG

    Maybe you will be surprised but …

    “I don’t want a nation of thinkers, I want a nation of workers.”
    John D. Rockefeller

  • Mark

    Unfortunately lots of great engineers are out of the workforce right now as firms are mandated by their accountants and investors to hire the cheapest body to fill the spot.

    • Paul Robinson

      That is very true! Also sadly people these days are seen as expendable much like a broken toaster.

  • Mark

    America already creates plenty of great scientists and engineers. But when they try to enter the workforce, they hit a brick wall as the employers are hooked on hiring foreign nationals instead of considering, in good faith, the local applicant pool.

  • Mark

    There’s lots of ‘better scientists’. Firms just don’t want to recruit them, instead orienting their recruitment towards hiring foreign nationals instead of Americans.

  • Buddy Story

    Coming from a profession which relies on engineers as a Structural Steel Detailer(the guy who makes it right in the end.. for over ten years) I can tell you the new class of engineers and architects are crap. Too much baby food from tenured liberals who care more about social crap than actual engineering or architecture. We will eventually have that grand social structure…. that will also eventually make our country look more like Russia than America. LOOK LIKE CRAP!!!

  • Paul Robinson

    There is only one reason that more Engineers and Scientists are not making discoveries, and it is quite simple from an Engineers standpoint that has done a number of experiments in the past. I even have a paper published on one of the many things that I have done. What is often overlooked is the desire for new things, if there is no demand to create something new. Also if the pay is not there for something new, we do not just come up with stuff saying that this new idea will make the world a better place. There needs to be demand for a product that we can create, as an Engineer we solve problems, if there is nothing for us to work with or on, quite simply we find things to do elsewhere. Inventions that we make are basically a solution to something that has a need of something that needs to be simplified and there is the desire for something new. If the demand is not there, we have nothing to do. Also quite often looking back I see my Masters in Science degree the worst financial mistake of my life, as I will probably be dead before I can ever earn enough to pay for the cost of the education. These days this is even more true. I would have been far happier without student loans over my head, than an education that has yet to allow me to find work that would make that degree a good investment. If more people would look at a degree as an investment from the start instead of the possible way to a job be would not have student loans in the USA alone topping trillions of dollars with little to show for it. I will be honest even visiting a doctor these days can be life threatening, that is because of the many mistakes that they often make that could easily be corrected by simply listening and asking questions. Also I know that people are worried about things such as terrorism today, but to be honest I am far more worried and for good reason about a doctor killing me more than any terrorist. Also national statistics do agree with me, we are far more likely to die from medical mistakes than anything else. There is a demand for a solution to both of these issues that I bring up, but no scientist or engineer or scientist will do anything to fix these or anything else because the funding to fix these things just is not there for a technological solution. This is why we do not have innovation, there is no real demand for it. Once upon a time people did not need money to put food in their mouth, and get the medications that they need to stay alive. Those days are long gone, and short of a major economic collapse they will not come back. Also we are not currently allowed to grow and prepare our own medicines, as that is a federal offense these days as well. Even if we are not selling them to other people, it still falls under cultivation and drug manufacture. So basically we need money to do everything in the world today… This is a simple explanation of why we do not need engineers and scientist there is not the demand, and besides it is more profitable for me to work as a mechanic than an engineer anyways, and should have stopped at the AA degree. I say if you do not have someone that wants to pay for your higher education beyond an AA, you are basically doing it for fun, as chances are the job will not be there waiting for you.

  • Paul Robinson

    There are only a few countries on the planet that are putting any money into research, so unless you are willing to move to Asia and learn a second language your chances are null to slim that you or anyone else will be able to find work in R & D. Even more so since Trump become president, and the jobs likely to come from him being president are in law enforcement and military, and do not expect the pay to be enough to be able to afford much of anything either.

  • Paul Robinson

    I used to know a guy with a Doctorate in Chemistry that worked at the Powerine Oil refinery in Santa Fe Springs, in all the time that I knew him he was homeless. Now that facility has been scrapped, and there is vacant industrial buildings on the property. This was at Bloomfield and Florence between Bloomfield and Norwalk, and south of Florence. Even where Kwikset Lock company was in Anaheim, there is houses now… I don’t know what most people do for work these days, as most of the jobs as we used to know them just do not exist anymore.
    Unlike the other poster, it is quite believable for people with an education to be homeless in the USA, that is because we were the chumps that bought into an unattainable dream, that used to be a possibility in this country. We are suppose to pay for an education that we get very little in return out of, and this is often the cause of people being homeless.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar